Way back before Nip/Tuck, Damages, Sons of Anarchy and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the fX cable network was born. It was 1994, I was 14, and I was obsessed with the wacky newborn network. The station was run out of one giant apartment in Manhattan’s Flatiron District. The network featured a bunch of live and original programs, each shot in different rooms of the apartment. The morning show, which was simply called Breakfast Time, was co-hosted by Tom Bergeron and often featured celebrity interviews in the apartment’s bathroom. Other great shows were Personal fX (a collectible show), The Pet Department (a show about … pets), and Backchat (a show where they simply read letters from views), which hosted by Jeff Probst.
To fill the rest of their days, fX featured a bunch of kitschy shows in their afternoon lineup, like Batman, Wonder Woman, The Green Hornet, and my favorite: The Greatest American Hero.
The Greatest Americna Hero followed an unlikely pair: Ralph Hinkley (which was later changed to “Hanley” after another Hinkley decided to try to assassinate President Reagan), who was a liberal high school teacher played by William Katt, and Bill Maxwell, a right-wing FBI agent. They partnered after they both experienced an alien encounter in the California desert. During the encounter, the aliens gave Ralph a superhero suit which granted him super powers, and an instruction manual so he’d know how to use it (which he quickly lost). Together they teamed up to save the world from Commies and a host of other bad guys. The grumpy, yet lovable Bill Maxwell was played by the fantastic Robert Culp.
But all great things always come to an end. The apartment eventually disappeared, fX turned into FX, and all the shows were replaced by newer reruns like The X-Files and Married… with Children, movies and NASCAR. Bergeron eventually went on to Hollywood Squares and Dancing With The Stars and Probst went on to a little show called Survivor.
In my teens I was obsessed with capturing all my favorite television shows on VHS, and my collection included every episode of The X-Files, Star Trek Voyager and Deep Space Nine, and all The Greatest American Hero episodes that I had recorded off of fX. I’d The Greatest American Hero over and over again. But like fX, I eventually moved on. I gave away or trashed all of those VHS tapes. Only one of those series ever found its way back into my collection, this time as a DVD set: The Greatest American Hero.
Although William Katt played the star of the show, Robert Culp was always my favorite. He was always grumpy, impatient and just down right funny. He was the ultimate good guy, fighting for his country during the cold war. His partner may have had super powers, but Bill Maxwell got the job done with his sharp wit and a side arm.
Culp died on Wednesday, after taking a fall while taking a walk near his home in Las Angeles. He was 79 years old. He was best known known for his hit 1960s television show with Bill Cosby, I Spy. Over the years he appeared in over 150 television shows and movies. In 1999, Culp narrated Eminem and Dr. Dre’s video for Guilty Conscience (below). In 2004 and 2007, he provided a voice for the computer game, Half Life 2 and the Adult Swim hit, Robot Chicken, respectively. Clearly the man had a sense of humor about himself, and wanted to stay relevant in modern Hollywood. Off screen, Culp was an animal and civil activist, who was most recently known for his efforts to oppose construction of an elephant exhibit at the LA Zoo.
For me, Robert Culp will always be that grumpy, lovable good-guy, Bill Maxwell. Goodbye, old friend. I’ll miss you. But I’ll never forget you.